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FIRST PERSON: Living With Anxiety & Bipolar

It was 27th December 2012, in the middle of my week long christmas holiday, when my friend asked me how my new job was going.  My response ended (tongue in cheek as always) with these words:

‘If I can’t make a success of THIS job I may as well call it a day’

I can still remember those words now and they continue to haunt me.

Let me offer some background.

My name is Stuart Bryan, I’m 23 and I have a history of severe anxiety attacks/depression and last year was diagnosed with a sub-form of bipolar called ‘Cyclothymia’.  From a young age I had never felt comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been the guy mucking around, taking the piss out of himself and making a joke out of everything and being a relatively ‘loud’ person. I felt like I had to make people laugh by any means possible just so people would like me. 

I’ve lived my whole life with low self-esteem and self-worth, criticising every little thing I do. These thoughts and lack of self belief caused failure after failure in my latter years of school and also with the opposite sex. I had lived with these thoughts for years, with my head deep in the sand in the belief I would grow out of these thought processes and would ‘become normal’.  However, in late 2012 came the straw that nearly broke the camel’s back.

It’s November 2012 and after a long spell of unemployment I had found my dream job working in the city and had never been happier…or so it seemed on the surface.
At the time I was living in North Essex and commuting a hefty distance into London every day, as I was determined to not let another job slip. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  However, the dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

After three or four weeks I realised I was out of my depth and my anxieties took over: ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘Everyone is waiting for me to make a mistake’, ‘You don’t deserve to be here’.  I felt I could do no right and was destined to fail. I was suffering from anxiety attacks at work and also on the long commute.For years I had suffered from these attacks which had previously cost me jobs but I was adamant this wasn’t to happen again.

I didn’t want to let my family and friends down who had been so supportive over the years and I didn’t think anyone would understand me being unhappy when I had a job I’d always wanted. Most importantly, I just didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.
I kept it all bottled up alongside years and years of previous anxieties and it was taking it’s toll. I was suffocating. No one could see the strain I was putting myself under. I was collapsing on the train or at home after work, it was coming up to Christmas – a time where everyone is supposed to be happy – and I just couldn’t see myself surviving the next 24 hours; every hour of every day became a struggle.

I still remember those words I uttered to my mate. Typical Stu. Mouth engages before brain. Playing as if everything is brilliant and life is amazing. I knew the second I said those words I would regret them. 2 weeks later I nearly did.

On 7th January 2013 I handed in my months notice. I did it with tears in my eyes, apologising to my incredible boss who had taken such a big gamble on me. I cried knowing I had to tell family and friends; I cried knowing I would have student loans and rent to pay with only JSA to pay for it. By this stage, though, the very thought of entering the Job Centre made me physically sick and sent me into a panic…

On my way to work the following day I blacked out on the train…but not physically – my mind blacked out. Next thing I know I am standing on my own on the underground, bag and coat on the platform floor behind me as I was leant over the edge. I stepped back wondering what I was doing then stood there for what seemed like an eternity, alone, wondering if I should or shouldn’t – the thoughts getting more and more serious. I didn’t. I stepped away. But for the next few weeks I couldn’t trust myself around a train platform. Thoughts to end my life would get stronger and harder to ignore.

Eventually I never showed up to work and never had to return but I still had to live with letting everyone down, as someone who grew up feeling inferior to others and wanting to please them this was unbearable to live with.
I spent six weeks alone, not talking to anyone, sleeping for 18 hours a day, not being able to look into the mirror and having absolutely no pride in myself, taking strong antibiotics everyday to knock me out and take the pain away.
Six months after this after another failed job attempt and another considered attempt at taking my own life, I decided help had to be sought after.
This was a huge step as I never had done something for myself before. I went to classes and received one to one help and felt more at ease with the knowledge i picked up on how and why I thought the way I do.
However after discovering CALM and their website, I realised I could be suffering with bipolar disorder (or form of), which turned out to be the case. 

This was the turning point. It was a weight off my shoulders knowing who I am. I now live my life comfortable with, and accepting of, who I am. I’m in a much happier place.
There is always an option; always someone to talk to. Being silent isn’t being strong and being open isn’t being weak.  Bottling up your emotions is suffocating. CALM do extraordinary work, not just offering a service and raising awareness but also by battling stigma as well. Men have to be seen as being able to hold it together at all times, and CALM want to break down this cultural construct, ensuring that guys feel able to ask for help with out being seen as a failure or less of a man for doing so.

I was honoured to run the 10k Santa Dash for CALM last christmas – the guys who worked for the charity on the day were warm and a real laugh and I love how personable and real the charity is. Long live men and long live CALM.

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